Registered nurses at 15 hospitals owned by the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain — including Research Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center — have voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations remain at an impasse.
The 15 hospitals in Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Texas and Nevada are owned by HCA Healthcare Inc. and employ about 7,000 RNs affiliated with the National Nurses Organizing Committee, or NNOC.
The nurses voted to authorize NNOC's negotiators to call a strike if issues raised during ongoing contract negotiations remain unresolved, according to a statement by the nurse’s union.
Those issues include nurse turnover rates, recruitment and retention, and compliance with the hospitals’ staffing grids.
Staffing grids are meant to ensure the right ratio of nurses to patients, taking into account the acuteness of the patients’ conditions.
Between them, Kansas City, Missouri, -based Research and Overland Park, Kansas, -based Menorah have more than 1,000 registered nurses. Both hospitals are part of HCA Midwest Health, which owns eight hospitals in the Kansas City area and is part of HCA Healthcare.
In 2017, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare posted a $2.22 billion profit on revenues of $43.6 billion.
Leslie Rogers, an operating room nurse at Research for 43 years and a member of NNOC’s negotiating team, said Research does not have a problem recruiting nurses. She said it has a problem retaining them.
Rogers said 400 registered nurses have left Research since the nurses’ last contract took effect three years ago. Some of them retired, but Rogers said many left because “they were disenchanted by the staffing grid not being solid.”
“What happens is the hospital sets their own staffing grid according to acuity and when the nurses report to duty it’s not being followed,” she said.
“What we're asking them to do is to follow their own grid that they established that we want to follow. But that's not being done,” she said.
In a statement, HCA said that Research and Menorah “deeply value our nurses and the compassionate care they provide to our patients.”
HCA said its turnover rates “are stable and reducing” and its staffing grids meet national standards.
The company said it would “not allow union negotiating tactics to come between the admiration and trust we have for our nurses.”
“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for tactics like this to be used when a union and an employer are in contract negotiations, as is the case with this nursing union,” HCA said. “We look forward to continuing our negotiations. Patient care will not be disrupted.”
The vote to authorize a strike does not mean the nurses will go on strike, only that if negotiations remain at an impasse, striking is an option. The nurses have been working without a contract since June 1.
The issues at play have been festering for months.
In June, registered nurses at Research staged an informational picket and rally urging hospital management to reduce RN turnover and to comply with its staffing grids.
At the time, the union contended nurse-to-patient ratios in December 2017 showed the inpatient oncology unit at Research was 66 percent understaffed, the intensive care unit 21 percent understaffed and the orthopedic, neurology and trauma unit 52 percent understaffed.
Rogers said the union has proposed more staggered shifts as one solution to the staffing problem. She said the hospital “actually permitted a short trial and we felt that it was successful,” but the hospital discontinued it.
Contract negotiations resume next week.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies